Color, 2008, 94m.
Directed by José Mojica Marins
Starring José Mojica Marins, Jece Valadão, Adriano Stuart, Milhem Cortaz, Rui Resende, José Celso Martinez Corrêa, Cristina Aché
Synapse (Blu-Ray/DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Anchor Bay (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

From 1964 to 1981, actor/director José Mojica Marins became Brazil's biggest boogeyman as "Coffin Joe" (Zé do Caixão), an amoral fiend with incredibly long fingernails, a trademark black top hat and cape, and an insatiable desire to continue his bloodline through a string of less-than-willing females. His first two horror features, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, set up the Coffin Joe mythology, with the character making subsequent appearances in some of his later anthology and "greatest hits" films over the years. In 2008, Marins finally released the third official installment in his COffin JOe feature series, and everyone had to wonder: how and why do you bring a character so associated with the excessive '60s and '70s into the modern era?

The answer comes right away as we meet a much grayer and even madder-looking Coffin Joe locked away in an asylum where, after decades of incarceration for vile crimes against humanity, he's freed thanks to the efforts of a female attorney (Aché) and joins his hunchbacked sidekick, Bruno (Resende), to resume his depraved activities. However, the slums have become very different over the passage of time; on top of that, a nasty colonel (Valadão) and police captain (Stuart) have their sights set on making Joe pay for his misdeeds. Undeterred, he rounds up some new disciplines (whom he initiates through fun tricks like ordering them to fire pistols at their skulls) and embarks on a new mission to sire an evil heir. Along the way he's tortured by black and white flashbacks from the first two films, with his ghostly victims attacking him as equally monochromatic phantoms. With both women and men subjected to a string of ghoulish torments, can Joe be stopped before his mission is completed?

It takes a lot to shock horror fans numbed by a string of mindless torture porn films, but Martins quickly exceeds expectations with Embodiment of Evil. Apart from the opening credits, the film relies on a combination of grisly practical effects, real-life masochists willing to subject themselves to various piercings and insect attacks, and conceptually fearless atrocities, such as a woman forced to eat a highly unusual body part. The film has its moments of beauty as well, especially a third act fantasy sequence with Coffin Joe escorted through Hell that turns into a fantastic surrealist set piece. Marins' over-the-top acting hasn't changed one iota either; drawing inspiration on some of Vincent Price's more melodramatic performances but ratcheted through the roof, he turns Coffin Joe into a vivid, barnstorming figure of villainy you can't help secretly rooting for as he undermines all of society's dictates.

Through some insane twist, Embodiment Of Evil was picked up for distribution by 20th Century Fox in Brazil, and their logo remains at the head of all international releases. The first English-friendly release came in the UK from Anchor Bay, whose 2009 DVD was a disastrously bad conversion to PAL from NTSC (like the titles in their bitterly disappointing Coffin Joe box set). Their Blu-Ray was better, even if it also suffered from some odd frame rate inconsistencies and a peculiar lack of film grain. It took a while, but Synapse's American edition is a very pleasing presentation that packs in a Blu-Ray along with a separate DVD (for folks who, I don't know, want to play it in a minivan for their kids or something). The Blu-Ray looks really terrific, with fine detail and an appropriate light dusting of fine film grain throughout. What's really frustrating about transfers like this is how good the snippets from the first two Coffin Joe films look; you'll be praying for subsequent Blu-Rays of the other titles before the first half hour's up. The Portuguese audio (in either DTS-HD 5.1 or 2.0) sounds great, with lots of spacious separation effects and a nicely immersive score. Extras include an entertaining making-of featurette (in which we see Marins at work shooting the film and discussing his rationale behind the character), a theatrical trailer, and footage from the film's premiere at Canada's Fantasia Film Festival. Here's hoping we don't have to wait another decade or two before Coffin Joe rants and raves on camera again.